Courtney and I have been quite cautious for most of our lives. We follow the rules (but disdain legalism), drive the speed limit (well, she does) and tend to avoid all sorts of trouble (except for that time we got suspended from Clarendon Hills Middle School, but that’s a story for a different day). Both of us are entrepreneurs, working relentlessly and passionately for our clients. She’s a photographer and videographer, and I’m a realtor. We are the least likely pairing to drop everything and fly across the ocean.
As I write, I’m sitting on our private balcony while the sun sets in streaks of orange, mauve and gold. We did it — we are in Paris. The trip has just begun, and already, it’s surreal. I want to remember everything, so I’m going to do my best to write a little bit each day. What follows is my diary of a week in France with my best friend. It will be long and detailed, so feel free to read as much (or as little) as you’d like.
I am a sorry excuse for a traveler. I don’t enjoy lines, seatbelts or tiny bathrooms. The mere thought of spending ten hours on an airplane makes my stomach hurt. But this is the cost of a European adventure, and I knew I’d have to suck it up.
Our flight from O’Hare departed around 9 p.m., Chicago-time, and the plan was to sleep on the plane. I did not do this. All night long, I sat wide-eyed in my seat, unable to turn my brain off. We landed in Sweden for a layover, and I lumbered through customs in a daze. Courtney knew not to say much to me. I was crabby and in dire need of caffeine. By then, it was midday, Paris-time.
The next airplane ride was far better, thanks to two lattes. During the descent, I gave Courtney one earphone — we listened to French songs from the soundtrack to Something’s Gotta Give as the wheels touched down.
After a scenic bus trip from the airport to the city, Courtney and I arrived at our stop — Arc de Triomphe de l’Etoile. We had a crumpled sheet of paper with directions from our Airbnb hosts, complete with photos of each turning point. Immediately, we were lost, wandering the streets as the sun set on Paris. We soon succumbed to Google Maps and followed the blue dot as it moved closer to our destination. My dad had gifted me with a small international phone plan — he is a very wise father.
We finally stumbled upon 3 Rue des Renaudes, a pure Art Deco building constructed in 1925. When we found this place online many months ago, it didn’t take more than a moment for us to book our stay. The home of Monsieur and Madame Tournemire is a vintage penthouse duplex. There are crown moldings, textured wallpaper, mismatched rugs, a wood-burning fireplace and three balconies. Courtney and I were drawn to the historic Parisian feel, but mostly, we adored the thought of staying with the Tournemires.
It was nearly 8 p.m. when we buzzed in at the front door. Monsieur Tournemire, a silver-haired man with the kindest eyes, greeted us in the lobby. The three of us took the lift up to the top floor, and instantly, Courtney and I melted. The hardwood floors, the evening glow, the orange wine they poured for us. It was too much. I felt famished and tired and gleefully happy.
Madame and Monsieur Tournemire gave us a tour of the place as we sipped from our little glasses. We bottled this fifteen years ago, our host said. He then pointed to the portraits above the mantel and “introduced” us to the extended family. Courtney and I giggled. We quickly learned that Monsieur was a bit of a goofball.
Upstairs, we set aside our suitcases and flung open the balcony doors to see our first Parisian sunset. Our weary eyes took it all in, and the scene of the light hitting the rooftops was spectacular. We then changed into warmer clothes and walked down the block for a late dinner. In Paris, restaurants close early on Sundays, so it took a while before we found a place.
La Colombe served us large glasses of Bordeaux and croque monsieur — an absolutely perfect supper. That night, we slept soundly.
The sun came in strong. After almost nine hours of rest, we awoke to a glorious spring day. Both of us were surprised at how easy it was to adjust to the time change. By 9:30 a.m., Paris-time, we were downstairs with our hosts. Monsieur told us where to go and eat, and Madame poured us two cups of crisp coffee.
When we first booked our trip, Courtney and I figured we’d create some sort of itinerary. But the date drew nearer, and we shrugged. I am indifferent towards museums and sightseeing (as is Courtney), and we both craved a legitimate vacation. We wanted to sit at sidewalk cafes and watch the people go by. We wanted to drink wine and be merry. We wanted to talk, relax, unwind. So, we made no plans.
Courtney was determined to have a croissant for breakfast, and it was not hard to locate a café with a bowl of them on the counter. Two espressos and two pastries later, she pulled her thin copy of the New Testament from her bag. I closed my eyes and asked her to read me something, anything. She thumbed through the book, eventually settling on a passage from 2 Corinthians:
Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
With that, we were ready to walk.
We set out in search of La Seine, stopping intermittently for Courtney to take photos. Everything took our breath away, from the blooming trees to the classic Haussmannian architecture. My favorite stop that morning was at the Peninsula. In Chicago, I spend far too much time in the lobby of this hotel. It is exquisite in every way. I swooned similarly over the one in Paris.
A few miles later, we were dancing beneath the Eiffel Tower. I sang the words to “L-O-V-E” by Nat King Cole and twirled in circles. It was enough to work up an appetite. We sat for lunch at a bustling bistro called Le Primrose. Courtney got a salmon salad; I had chicken and sautéed veggies. We felt very much Parisian.
The rest of our afternoon was a bit of a blur. We walked many, many more miles, crossing from the 7th arrondissement to the 15th. There were moments when I was laughing so hard, I had to pause to regain composure. And then there were times when we were quiet, taking it all in. This is the sort of trip you can only take with someone you feel absolutely, positively comfortable with. Courtney is my person, and so it made all the sense in the world for us to travel together.
We spent happy hour at L’Éclair per a friend’s recommendation. The bar, located in the 7th arrondissment on Rue Cler, was cozy and laid-back. We sat beside the cobblestone pedestrian-only road and people-watched. I was exhausted by this point, and both of us were ready to go back to our Airbnb — our French home — after a round of drinks.
That walk took almost an hour, and I honestly thought my feet might sever from my legs. Thankfully, they held on until we turned onto Rue des Renaudes. We took a few hours to rest before heading out once more for dinner — this time, at an American restaurant called Indiana. (Fun fact: French people seem to think Native Americans reside in Indiana.)
After unabashedly devouring a cheeseburger and taco salad, we befriended a trio of girls at the table next to us. What are you doing tonight? the English-speaking one asked. We looked at each other, smiled and shrugged. What do you suggest? I said, fully intending to go home as soon as we paid the bill.
The girls invited us to the nightclub with them, which feels almost as funny to type as it did to hear. Courtney and I don’t go to nightclubs. We don’t belong in nightclubs. And although it would certainly add a twist to this story, we politely declined our new friend’s invitation. Instead, we laughed all the way home and went to sleep (with the help of a few ZzzQuil).
It was another picturesque morning. I swear I heard birds singing as I rubbed my eyes and adjusted to the light. We had coffee and toast with Madame Tournemire and peppered her with questions: What religion do most people follow here? What was it like after the terror attacks? What do you like to do in the day? Courtney and I are intentional conversationalists, and Madame had lots to share.
We decided to venture to Sacré-Cœur, the church on a hill that we could see from our balcony. According to Madame (and Google), the walk would take about an hour. That’s nothing, I thought to myself. After the previous day, I felt I could conquer a marathon.
Midway through the journey, I saw stars. Dizzy from the uphill climb, I was ready to plop down on the sidewalk and stuff a baguette in my mouth. Courtney, being the ever-patient friend that she is, waited for me to make my way up the street. She promised we’d eat at the next café we passed.
Just as I was about to give up, Courtney and I saw the sign pointing to the Funiculaire de Montmartre. Our Parisian girlfriends from the night before had told us about this attraction. Basically, it saves tourists from taking several hundred steps to the church. Done. Sold. We boarded the funicular, en route to paradise.
Paradise, in its simplest form, is a ham-and-cheese crepe and two cups of American coffee. That’s what I got once we made it to the Place du Tertre. I didn’t say much out loud, but on the inside, I felt immensely grateful for the fuel and caffeine. That trip to Sacré-Cœur was one of the hardest walks of my life.
The scene at Sacré-Cœur felt like a Parisian Disney World. Too many bodies, too many selfie sticks, too many Eiffel Tower keychains. Courtney and I did our famous shrug (translation: we’re over this) and left soon after eating. One dose of tourism was enough.
While moseying on the Boulevard de Courcelles, Courtney and I found a crowded bistro filled with people, drinks and conversation. We sat at a tiny table on the street and drank red wine and rosé — the very best way to spend two sunny hours.
We both like routine: happy hour, rest time, late dinner. That was our agenda, and we were sticking to it. After a few drinks, we walked back home. I wrote; Courtney read. Eventually, we joined the Tournemires in the living room for a glass of that curiously divine homemade wine.
For dinner, we went out to César, an Italian restaurant recommended to us by Courtney’s cousin. We sat at a table inside and peeled off our unnecessary layers. In true Italian fashion, we ordered wine, pizza and thinly sliced beef. It was all very good, but not to be outdone by the adventure that followed.
We happened upon a café down the block from the restaurant with outdoor seating and heat lamps — the ultimate combination. La Flamme’s menu offered zodiac cocktails, classic cocktails, energizing cocktails and more cocktails. The creations were garnished with giant pink marshmallows and glow sticks. We howled. Perhaps the silliest part of all was that the tables had giant pictures of Barbie on them.
Around midnight, we headed home, laughing hysterically and SnapChatting along the way. I felt giddy — yes, partly from the alcohol, but mostly because I was wandering the moonlit streets of Paris with Courtney.
We did not sleep well. We’re sensitive to begin with — add in a few too many drinks, and our snooze session is sure to be disrupted. I laid awake at five, six, seven in the morning. At half past eight, I flung the covers off and thumped downstairs to wait for Madame’s coffee.
The plan for Wednesday wasn’t much of a plan. Courtney and I figured we’d walk to the Musée du Louvre, though neither of us really wanted to go inside. We’re not art people, and the idea of more tourists made both of us feel woozy. Instead, we slowly ate our toast with the Tournemires (and their additional house guests — one priest and two foreign exchange students). Breakfast was hopping that morning.
Around eleven, we set off for the Louvre. We did not get very far. There was a park along the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, and as soon as we saw it, a brilliant idea came about: baguettes in the park. Courtney and I practically sprinted to the nearest bakery, ordered our bag of food and took it to a shady patch of grass.
My smoked salmon baguette was fresh and filling, and to top off the meal, I had two chewy macarons. I did not think about calories. After fighting with food for so many years, it was a thrill to eat what I wanted — like pastries at lunchtime.
Satisfied, the two of us continued walking toward the museum. There is a seemingly endless strip of gravel leading there, and as the day grew warmer, Courtney and I began to lose steam — me, especially. And we really, really needed to go to the bathroom, which is an unfortunate problem to have at a tourist-filled destination in a foreign country. We grimaced and paid €0.70 to use les toilettes.
The next few hours were spent in a magical garden — formally known as the Jardin des Tuileries. I am normally not one for the great outdoors, but there was something about this place that made me think of Heaven. Courtney explored with her camera while I sat down on a forest green chair. We could’ve spent a day here, but the sun was strong and both of us wanted caffeine.
Our stroll back to the main shopping boulevard was one of the highlights of my week. We sang, danced, joked — all the while dragging our feet and pausing every hundred meters, doubled over with laughter. Courtney and I know how to have unexpected fun during seemingly dull moments. This is what we do.
For the rest of the afternoon, we sipped Diet Cokes, waited in line at Ladurée and stopped in a few stores. Courtney hates — no, loathes — shopping, and I could tell she was ready to go back home by early evening. I still had a bit of energy left, though, so we decided to split up. Courtney listened to jazz music on our private balcony; I enjoyed a glass of Bordeaux at a sidewalk café.
We went to a trendy restaurant that night, packed with young people. It was the sort of place that offered larger pours and outdoor seating. We sat in the front row and talked about our friends, our (future) husbands, our fears and triumphs of late. When the sun went down, we moved inside and ordered two salads.
My absolute favorite thing to do is put a deal together, no matter the time or continent. I did just that on Wednesday evening. During dinner, one of my clients texted me to ask if we could do a FaceTime audio call. Every café in Paris has wifi, so I dialed straight away. This particular couple was ready to make an offer on a condo and needed my advice. My heart swelled in my chest as I strategized with them.
While my colleague wrote up the contract in Chicago, I celebrated with a double-scoop cone at Häagen-Dazs — cookie dough and chocolate midnight, if you must know.
On our last full day, Courtney and I went downstairs in pajamas for another lively breakfast with our hosts. I grew to love their plain sandwich bread, toasted and patted with butter. It was such a simple, comforting food to wake up to every morning. The coffee, too — just as excellent as the kind I drink at home.
We finally felt confident enough to test out the public transportation system — le métro, they call it. Until Thursday, we’d been walking everywhere. Our calloused feet were more than ready for a ride on the subway. With the help of a stranger, we transferred to the correct line and arrived at Le Marais in our matching black felt hats. This is a district rich in history, brimming with boutiques and galleries — for a time, it was also the epicenter for the Jewish community. Several friends (including the girls from the American restaurant) had told us to come here and try a falafel. Neither of us knew what that was, exactly, but we navigated our way to at L’As du Fallafel for lunch.
Outside the tattered, emerald-colored building, there were two long lines for walk-up service. Courtney and I decided to dine inside (a little more expensive, but with the added benefit of being able to use the bathroom). Bravely, we both ordered the famous falafel special. Three minutes later, the waiter handed us our pitas, each stuffed with chickpea fritters, crunchy cabbage and the creamiest sauce. We shared a plate of hot fries to round out our sinful meal.
We shopped around afterwards. Courtney hunted for cards; I was on a mission to find black carrot pants — every chic French woman seemed to wear these. I ended up paying over €100 for a pair of sweats. In retrospect, I am not entirely sure what I was thinking. But the leggings are impossibly soft and comfortable, and I can’t wait to tell people I bought them en France.
Before leaving the district, we bought a small bouquet of les fleurs for Madame Tournemire. This had been our first Airbnb experience, and we knew it wasn’t the norm. But we loved staying with our “host grandparents,” and despite the language barrier, I felt secure with them. Flowers were in order.
We stopped for a drink on the way back from the subway — white wine for me, beer for Courtney. Although we were tired from exploring the cobblestone streets of Le Marais, we were determined to toast to our final happy hour at yet another sidewalk bistro. Then, back at home, we gave the flowers to Madame, and her joyous reaction was sweet and sincere. She put them in a vase and carried them into the living room. Monsieur was there, too, and he poured us a drink. (Note: I do not consume this much alcohol in my normal life. But this was a vacation, and how could I refuse that homemade spiced wine?) We sat with them for what seemed like an hour. During that time, we discovered that Monsieur’s father was a famous Olympic pentathlete. There was lots of laughter that evening.
I took a catnap before dinner — it would be the best one yet. Courtney and I planned to go to Le Grand Colbert, also known as the restaurant from Something’s Gotta Give. This is our all-time favorite movie, and we were deliriously excited to dine at the place where Erica Barry and Harry Sanborn realized they were meant to be together.
Unfortunately, I was grumpy. The deal from the night before was no longer a sure thing, and nothing irritates me more than the thought of a transaction falling apart. Courtney knows this about me. She has a gentle way of encouraging me when I feel most anxious. We prayed at our table, and she reminded me that I cannot control anyone or anything.
I cheered up after devouring a bowl of French onion soup. For our main course, we splurged — lobster and crab, plus two big glasses of fine red wine. We’d been frugal for the entire week, opting to walk instead of take cabs or public transportation. Plus, we saved major money by using Airbnb. We were two entrepreneurs that definitely deserved a last supper like this one. (Oh, and we took a cab there and back. Worth it.) We topped off our dinner with two snack-sized McFlurry’s. I know, I know — McDonald’s. But oh, it tasted like America, and we were content.
Our last stop of the evening was La Flamme, the bar with the Barbie tables from earlier in the week. We spent the rest of our euros on (1) pina colada, (1) white russian, (1) bloody mary and (1) strawberry daiquiri. That meant (4) big pink marshmallows.
My alarm sounded at 6:20 a.m.. We jolted out of bed and dragged our stuff downstairs. I was about to call our Uber when we noticed the lamplight coming from the dining room. There was Monsieur at the table in his robe, reading the paper and spreading butter on his toast. He was waiting for us. I felt like crying. I think Courtney did, too.
We had breakfast with him (translation: I chugged three cups of water and took a sip of coffee) before our ride to the airport arrived. Monsieur hugged us goodbye, and we promised to email him some of Courtney’s photos.
The rest of Friday morning and afternoon was a blur of airport security, passport stamps and two bleary-eyed girls. It’s now 9:30 p.m., Paris-time. Our plane should land at O’Hare around 6:30 p.m., Chicago-time. Courtney is sleeping next to me as I finish writing this — somehow, we managed to get an entire row to ourselves.
I did not know what this trip would be like. Admittedly, I am a bit of a control freak. I love routine — no, crave it — and tend to struggle with any semblance of spontaneity. When Courtney and I decided to book our vacation, I felt more reckless than ever before. It was going to be expensive and exhausting — fun, too, but still. I worried.
All of this said, I had the time of my life in Paris.
It was a dream. A dream to travel to a new place with no itinerary and no expectations. A dream to experience food freedom. A dream to wander past ivy-covered boulangeries with my best friend since grade school — someone who fully knows, accepts and loves me.
We will be home soon, and I’m eager to get back to normalcy. But there are four hours to go, and until then, I’m going to sit in my airplane seat and thank God for our perfect Parisian week.
film + photos by Courtney Cimo